Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

Will Smarter Cars Make Us Safer Drivers?

I don't have a self-driving car or anything, but I like to follow what's happening as the technology evolves. Obviously, it's intriguing to think of a future where you sit in a car and do whatever you want to while the car takes you safely to your destination. I often wonder how long it will take to get to that kind of future, and how long it will take to transition from our current road system.

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Things are definitely starting to move forward, if not to fully autonomous vehicles, at least on the path to much "smarter" cars. The long-anticipated Tesla Model 3 is finally in full production and its first customers are taking delivery. The Model 3 is the first electric vehicle to combine style and affordability—they start at $35,000—but they seem to offer much more than just an eco-friendly ride.

Autopilot—the same tech we've heard about inside the pricier Model S and Model X—will let the Model 3 cruise down the highway with no hands on the wheel and, soon, even drive itself completely from A to B. That is exciting for the future of cars but there is also a lot of uncertainty. A small fraction of the cars on the road have these self-driving capabilities so there is as much risk from other drivers as anything else. That said, America's youth will grow up with more automated features and less hands-on experience than I did. For example, how many teenagers do you see today driving a manual transmission? One of my daughters does, but most of her friends don't even know how.

I believe there will be growing pains regarding the future of self-driving and driving-assisted cars, but it's coming all the same. Here are some ways it could impact the safety and skills of tomorrow's drivers:

Driver's Education

It's not crazy to think that a baby born today may not have to learn to drive a car in 16 years. In fact, why wait until you're 16 to drive when a car is fully automated? Of course, that's assuming there are no manually-driving cars on the road -- a mixture of autonomous and manual vehicles could be problematic during the transition.

We could see a future where young drivers look up certain rules or know-how on an app or driving how-to guide like it's Wikipedia. Even if they have a driver's license or complete a driver's ed course, the actual driving could be so far and few between that such a guide is always on-hand in the rare event of manually operating a vehicle. I could also imagine a car that would talk to the driver and guide them through procedures, such as getting on a ferry or dealing with unusual situations.

Rural vs Urban Driving

Cities will adopt self-driving cars just fine, but what about the old pickup truck and the dirt roads? We may see a culture/class separation between the automatic and manual cars during this transition period, with younger people sitting back in urban areas and older people driving out in the country. How will the law handle that? Most likely, rural drivers will have a special license to drive outside the city limits, but the urban roads could go self-driving-only sooner than we think.

I can imagine that the future may bring us certain models of cars that are intended for offroad and special uses. I can't see an all-electric car with limited range being the best choice for rural or "off the grid" use, so we may see hybrid vehicles or alternative fuel sources, such as fusion reactors at some point in the future.

Insurance Premiums

Self-driving cars are designed to reduce accidents and make driving safer, so what does that mean for the people who still choose to drive even when self-driving cars are readily available? A world of self-driving cars will surely disrupt the insurance industry, but what will those premiums look like for those who want their hands on the wheel? Likely two things—they'll pay more, but they'll also be overall better drivers since only enthusiasts will want the extra cost for the added freedom. I imagine that manual driving will be prohibited on high-volume roads like the US's interstate highways.

Semi-Auto Driving

Let's step back into the present—many cars on the road may not be self-driving but they do have assisted driving features. This includes lane assist, smart cruise control, early brake detection, and more. They're supposed to keep us safe, but do they make us safer drivers? Some argue they make us lazy behind the wheel while others say it reduces collisions, so what does it matter? One thing that's certain, however, is that this technology isn't going anywhere and it's up to us as drivers to stay alert until true self-driving is here.

What do you think? Future or fantasy?

4 Reasons Why You Need to Be More Safety-Conscious

Are you safe? Unfortunately, many Americans aren’t as safe as they think. In 2014, 136,000 Americans died accidentally, according to the American Safety Council. Accidental overdoses have overtaken car crashes as the No. 1 killer of Americans, and deaths from falls are up 63 percent over the last decade due to an aging population. Meanwhile, one in 36 U.S. homes will be burglarized this year, according to FBI data. And a record 15.4 million U.S. consumers became victims of identity theft last year, a Javelin Strategy & Research report found.

Safety risks lurk everywhere. Fortunately, taking proactive steps can mitigate the most common safety threats. Here are reasons why you should be more safety-conscious, along with some tips to help you stay safe:

Reasons to Be Safety-Conscious

The first reason to be more safety-conscious is to protect your health. Many American have unsafe dietary habits - let's take a look at some numbers:

One in five adults failing to eat vegetables every day, and four in 10 neglect to eat fruit daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Half of U.S. adults don’t get enough aerobic exercise, says the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of these and other poor health habits, one in three Americans has at least one cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

Exercism

Second, poor health and safety habits also hit you in the pocketbook, which is another reason to adopt safe behaviors. Obese people pay $1,400 more per year for medical care than healthy people, a study published in Health Affairs found. The average hospital cost of a fall injury is $30,000, reported a study published in the Journal of Safety Research. The average cost of being hit by identity theft is $1,343, according to the Department of Justice.

The third reason to be more safety-conscious is insurance. High-risk lifestyles and behaviors can raise your insurance rates, while being more safety-conscious can lower them. For instance, insurers allow companies that have wellness programs the option of offering up to 30 percent discounts as incentives.

A fourth reason to be more safety-conscious is to gain peace of mind. Not only will you feel less stress, but you will be helping your physical and mental health, as well as your financial health. As much as eight percent of healthcare costs stem from stress, according to Harvard Business School professor Joel Goh.

Tips for Staying Safe

Health: Staying safety-conscious starts with following safer health habits. The American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet and exercise as the best prevention against cardiovascular disease. To maintain weight, use up at least as many calories as you take in; to lose weight, use up more calories than you consume. Eat a balanced diet from all the food groups, including fruits and vegetables, avoiding trans and saturated fat, and sweets. Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity in each week. If you need to lower your blood pressure or cholesterol, aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity three to four times a week. Schedule regular preventive screenings to intercept potential problems early.

Money: To keep your finances safe, avoid giving out your Social Security number, health care information, and other personal information when it’s not needed, recommends the U.S. government’s identity theft protection page. Pick up your mail promptly, and ask the post office to hold your mail if you’ll be away for a while. Review monthly credit statements and check your credit report once a year to watch for unauthorized activity. Use firewalls, anti-virus software, and secure connections when going online, and only use HTTPS-protected sites for online financial transactions.

Home: To keep your home safe, Allstate recommends you change your locks when moving into a new home, and make sure all doors have deadbolts. Take steps to make your home look occupied when you’re not home, such as leaving a car in the driveway or leaving a loud radio on. Install motion-activated lights and alarms, and consider timers or home automation to give the impression that someone is home. Set up video surveillance cameras to identify intruders. The best surveillance cameras from providers such as Lorex have high-definition resolution with night vision so that you can capture suspect details such as hair and eye color even in low-light conditions. Install fire and smoke alarms, and check the batteries regularly.

These are just some examples of the risks and countermeasures available to you. Sometimes, it helps to think like an auditor and try to look objectively at your habits, surroundings, and so forth - if you always operate out of habit, you can overlook the risks. What about you - do you have any tips to share on this topic?

Spotlight On Depression In Older Adults

If you know someone who's aging and struggling with depression, Juno Medical has some good guidance on how to help them.

Starting with the signs, here are some things to look for to determine whether depression may be a factor:

  • loss of interest in activities that they would normally enjoy and inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks
  • loss of energy, change in appetite; different sleeping patterns; anxiety; reduced concentration; restlessness; feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • depression among older people is often associated with physical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Life events, such as losing a partner; and a reduced ability to do things that were possible when younger, may also contribute to depression.

As for helping, this infographic provides some guidance.

If you'd like to find out more, visit Juno Medical's site about depression in older adults.

Getting A Tax Refund? Think Before You Spend It...

Here in the US, April means "Tax Day" (April 18 this year). Filing your taxes can be a hassle, and it's particularly harsh if you have to pay additional taxes.

However, some people look forward to getting a tax refund. If you're one of those people, you might want to just go out and blow it on something fun, or a night on the town. Hold your horses! That may not be the best way to use that money.

Consider The Options For How To Spend Your Tax Refund

What are your options? The good folks at Earnest have put together a great infographic that take you through some of the stats, options, and the pros and cons of each - check it out:

 Considerations for using your tax refund wisely - courtesy of Earnest.

Considerations for using your tax refund wisely - courtesy of Earnest.

When I look at the options in this graphic, my bias would be to pay down outstanding debt first starting with the highest interest rate. You should also consider “refinancing” high interest rate debt by transferring it to a lower-interest loan or line of credit. For example, you could refinance your student loans for a lower interest rate. This will give you more leverage from the money you earn, and your future self will thank you.

A Big Refund Is Probably Not A Good Goal

If you got a big, hefty refund, I'd talk with a tax advisor about how to adjust my withholding allowances to reduce the size of next year's refund. While it may feel good to get a big check for a refund, a big refund means you overpaid taxes and effectively gave the US Federal Government a free loan for most of the year. Changing your withholding so that you get a small refund at the end of the year means you have more money in your pocket each pay period.

Of course, if your tax refund is the only savings plan you have, that is another story. A financial advisor can help you develop a more strategic savings plan.

If you want to build a better plan on your own, I know people who swear by "The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness" by Dave Ramsey. It is a no-nonsense approach based on sound advice and no gimmicks.

Cyber Monday Shopping Tips

AS FEATURED ON KGW TV'S
"PORTLAND TODAY" CLICK HERE TO WATCH

The Monday following the "Black Friday" shopping day has been declared as "Cyber Monday" and millions of people around the world are expected to do much of their holiday shopping online on that day.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you shop more safely, this holiday season - whether you shop on Cyber Monday or not:

1. Be careful when clicking on email links

This time of year, people are especially vulnerable to "Click now for this amazing offer!" phishing emails. When you receive an enticing email offer, be careful when clicking on that link - what you see on the screen may not match the underlying link. Often, you can hover over the link to see where you're actually being sent but this can sometimes show you a long and confusing link, due to embedded tracking information.

If the sender is one you recognize, and the email is from a vendor to which you've "opted in" to receive email offers, you're probably OK. However, if you have any concerns about the validity of the link, it's better to be safe by typing in the address of the website directly rather than clicking on the link.

Which brings me to tip #2...

2. Use https:// instead of http://

When you're typing the address, you can ensure you get a secure connection by using the "https://" prefix on your web address. The 's' stands for secure, and it encrypts the connection between your browser and the site you're browsing.

More and more websites are offering (or even defaulting to) https: connections, but you can force it by typing the address in yourself. If your site doesn't support https: it is generally OK to browse there, but avoid using insecure sites for shopping, since your payment information  is not secure when you transmit it to the site.

Also, your browser can help you - it will often show a lock icon or other indicator, signifying that you have a secure connection to the website.

Clicking on the website address will show you the full path, which should start with https: as shown above.

3. Shop using official apps

If you shop from your mobile device and the site you're shopping with has an official app, use it. This can help you avoid spoofed sites (i.e. sites masquerading as a legitimate site, but in place to harvest your personal and/or financial information. If you go this route, you're best off going to the main shopping site from your browser, clicking on the app store link from their site, and letting that link redirect you to the correct app on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or whatever app store is used by your device.

4. don't Shop on Public WiFi networks

If you're shopping from a public WiFi network in a coffee shop, airport, library, etc. chances are, your traffic is being transmitted unencrypted (aka "in the clear"), which means an attacker could observe and capture this information. Unfortunately, in some scenarios, this can even expose your information when connected to an https: site due to something known as a "man in the middle" attack.

In general, you're best off not shopping on public, unsecured WiFi networks. If you really want to shop on these networks, and wish to do so in a secure fashion, you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network service) to encrypt your device's traffic. There are some easy-to-use services that help you do this, such as Cloak (Mac and iOS only); TunnelBear (multi-platform), and WiTopia to name a few.

If you're not using a VPN, avoid sending sensitive information (such as your payment card data) over a public WiFi network.

5. Use a good, up-to-date security solution on your computer

Modern anti-virus and anti-malware technology can help protect you while shopping. Many of them not only scan your computer for malicious programs, they also have add-ins for your browser that are aware of know, malicious web sites and can warn you when you're in a dangerous spot.

Paid software is available for this, as well as free options. If you're using Windows and don't want to pay, the built-in Windows Defender is a good option. Companies like AVG, Avast, and Avira also offer free antivirus solutions for Windows and Mac computers.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also offer free anti-virus or anti-malware licenses to their customers - check with your internet provider to see what is available.

Bottom line, have something in place and keep it up-to-date with current malware and virus definitions.

6. Consider Using Apple Pay or Google Wallet 

Whether you're shopping online or in a store, if Apple Pay or Google Wallet payments are available, they offer a safe way to pay. Due to the way the security model on these systems works, your individual payment card details are never transmitted to the merchant.

Instead a one-time transaction credential is shared to enable the payment and a new one is generated each time you pay. That means that even if an attacker gains access to the transaction information they will be unable to use that information for a second transaction.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and I hope you find some great bargains on Cyber Monday!